Parliament Act 1911

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The Parliament Act 1911
Act of Parliament
Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (1837-1952).svg
Long title An Act to make provision with respect to the powers of the House of Lords in relation to
  1. those of the House of Commons, and to limit the duration of Parliament.
Citation 1 & 2 Geo.5 c. 13
Territorial extentUnited Kingdom
Royal assent 18 August 1911
Commencement 18 August 1911
Other legislation
Amended by Parliament Act 1949
Status: Amended
Revised text of statute as amended

The Parliament Act 1911 (1 & 2 Geo.5 c. 13) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It is constitutionally important and partly governs the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which make up the two Houses of Parliament. The Parliament Act 1949 provides that the Parliament Act 1911 and the Parliament Act 1949 are to be construed together "as one" in their effects and that the two Acts may be cited together as the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. [1]

Parliament of the United Kingdom Supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known internationally as the UK Parliament, British Parliament or Westminster Parliament, as well as domestically simply as Parliament or Westminster, is the supreme legislative body of the United Kingdom, the Crown dependencies and the British Overseas Territories. It alone possesses legislative supremacy and thereby ultimate power over all other political bodies in the UK and the overseas territories. Parliament is bicameral but has three parts, consisting of the Sovereign (Queen-in-Parliament), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The two houses meet in the Palace of Westminster in the City of Westminster, one of the inner boroughs of the capital city, London.

House of Commons of the United Kingdom Lower house in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The House of Commons, officially the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Owing to shortage of space, its office accommodation extends into Portcullis House.

House of Lords Upper house in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers and domestically usually referred to simply as the Lords, is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is granted by appointment or else by heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the full name of the house is the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.


Following the House of Lords' rejection of the 1909 "People's Budget", the House of Commons sought to establish its formal dominance over the House of Lords, which had broken convention in opposing the bill. The budget was eventually passed by the Lords, after the Commons' democratic mandate was confirmed by holding elections in January 1910. The following Parliament Act, which looked to prevent a recurrence of the budget problems, was also widely opposed in the House of Lords and cross-party discussion failed, particularly because of the proposed Act's applicability to passing an Irish home rule bill. Following a second general election in December, the Act was passed with the assent of the monarch, George V, who agreed to carry out H. H. Asquith's threat to create enough new Liberal peers to overcome the then Conservative majority in the Lords.[ clarification needed ]

Peoples Budget

The 1909/1910 People's Budget was a proposal of the Liberal government that introduced unprecedented taxes on the lands and incomes of Britain's wealthy to fund new social welfare programmes. It passed the House of Commons in 1909 but was blocked by the House of Lords for a year and became law in April 1910.

January 1910 United Kingdom general election

The January 1910 United Kingdom general election was held from 15 January to 10 February 1910. The government called the election in the midst of a constitutional crisis caused by the rejection of the People's Budget by the Conservative-dominated House of Lords, in order to get a mandate to pass the budget.

December 1910 United Kingdom general election

The December 1910 United Kingdom general election was held from 3 to 19 December. It was the last general election to be held over several days and the last to be held prior to the First World War (1914–18).

The Act effectively removed the right of the House of Lords to veto money bills completely, and replaced its right of veto over other public bills with the ability to delay them for a maximum of two years (the Parliament Act 1949 reduced this to one). It also reduced the maximum term of a parliament from seven years to five.

Veto legal power to unilaterally stop an official action, especially the enactment of legislation

A veto is the power to unilaterally stop an official action, especially the enactment of legislation. A veto can be absolute, as for instance in the United Nations Security Council, whose permanent members can block any resolution, or it can be limited, as in the legislative process of the United States, where a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate will override a Presidential veto of legislation. A veto may give power only to stop changes, like the US legislative veto, or to also adopt them, like the legislative veto of the Indian President, which allows him to propose amendments to bills returned to the Parliament for reconsideration.

Parliament Act 1949 United Kingdom legislation

The Parliament Act 1949 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It reduced the power of the House of Lords to delay certain types of legislation – specifically public bills other than money bills – by amending the Parliament Act 1911.


Until the Parliament Act 1911, there was no way to resolve disagreements between the two houses of Parliament except through the creation of additional peers by the monarch. [2] Queen Anne had created twelve Tory peers to vote through the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. [3] The Reform Act 1832 had been passed when the House of Lords dropped their opposition to it: William IV had threatened to create eighty new peers by request of the prime minister, Earl Grey. [2] This created an informal convention that the Lords would give way when the public was behind the House of Commons. For example, Irish disestablishment, which had been a major point of contention between the two main parties since the 1830s, was passed by the Lords in 1869 after Queen Victoria intervened and W.E. Gladstone won the 1868 election on the issue. However, in practice, this gave the Lords a right to demand that such public support be present and to decide the timing of a general election. [2]

Reform Act 1832 United Kingdom legislation

The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. According to its preamble, the Act was designed to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.

William IV of the United Kingdom King of the United Kingdom and Hanover

William IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death in 1837. The third son of George III, William succeeded his elder brother George IV, becoming the last king and penultimate monarch of Britain's House of Hanover.

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey,, known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from November 1830 to July 1834.

It was the prevailing wisdom that the House of Lords could not amend money bills, since only the House of Commons had the right to decide upon the resources the monarch could call upon. [2] This did not, however, prevent it from rejecting such bills outright. [2] In 1860, with the repeal of the paper duties, all money bills were consolidated into a single budget. This denied the Lords the ability to reject individual components, and the prospect of voting down the entire budget was seemingly unpalatable. It was only in 1909 that this possibility became a reality. [4] Prior to the Act, the Lords had had rights equal to those of the Commons over legislation but, by convention, did not utilise its right of veto over financial measures. [5]

Taxes on knowledge Fiscal history of British publications in the 19th century

Taxes on knowledge was a slogan defining an extended British campaign against duties and taxes on newspapers, their advertising content, and the paper they were printed on. The paper tax was early identified as an issue: "A tax upon Paper, is a tax upon Knowledge" is a saying attributed to Alexander Adam (1741–1809), a Scottish headmaster.

There had been an overwhelming Conservative-Liberal Unionist majority in the Lords since the Liberal split in 1886. [2] With the Liberal Party attempting to push through significant welfare reforms with considerable popular support, problems seemed certain to arise in the relationship between the houses. [2] Between 1906 and 1909, several important measures were considerably watered down or rejected outright: [6] for example, Augustine Birrell introduced the Education Bill 1906, which was intended to address nonconformist grievances arising from the Education Act 1902, but it was amended by the Lords to such an extent that it effectively became a different bill, whereupon the Commons dropped it. [7] This led to a resolution in the House of Commons on 26 June 1907, put forward by Liberal Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman, declaring that the Lords' power ought to be curtailed. [6] [8] In 1909, hoping to force an election, [9] the Lords rejected the financial bill based on the government budget (the "People's Budget") put forward by David Lloyd George, [2] by 350 votes to 75. [10] This action, according to the Commons, was "a breach of the constitution and a usurpation of the rights of the Commons". [6] The Lords suggested that the Commons demonstrate at the polls the veracity of its claim that the bill represented the will of the people. The Liberal government sought to do so through the January 1910 general election. Their representation in parliament dropped heavily, but they retained a majority with the help of a significant number of Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) and Labour MPs. [6] The IPP saw the continued power of the Lords as detrimental to securing Irish Home Rule. [4] Following the election, the Lords relented on the budget (which had been reintroduced by the government), [6] and it passed the Lords on 28 April, a day after the Commons vote. [11]

Augustine Birrell British politician

Augustine Birrell KC was a British Liberal Party politician, who was Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1907 to 1916. In this post, he was praised for enabling tenant farmers to own their property, and for extending university education for Catholics. But he was criticised for failing to take action against the rebels before the Easter Rising, and resigned. A barrister by training, he was also an author, noted for humorous essays.

Education Act 1902 United Kingdom legislation

The Education Act 1902, also known as the Balfour Act, was a highly controversial Act of Parliament that set the pattern of elementary education in England and Wales for four decades. It was brought to Parliament by a Conservative government and was supported by the Church of England, opposed many by Nonconformists and the Liberal Party. The Act provided funds for denominational religious instruction in voluntary elementary schools, most of which were owned by the Church of England and the Roman Catholics. It reduced the divide between voluntary schools, which were largely administered by the Church of England, and schools provided and run by elected school boards, and reflected the influence of the Efficiency Movement in Britain. It was extended in 1903 to cover London.

Henry Campbell-Bannerman former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was a British statesman and Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1905 to 1908 and Leader of the Liberal Party from 1899 to 1908. He also served as Secretary of State for War twice, in the Cabinets of Gladstone and Rosebery. He was the first First Lord of the Treasury to be officially called "Prime Minister", the term only coming into official usage five days after he took office. He also remains the only person to date to hold the positions of Prime Minister and Father of the House at the same time.


Samuel Begg's depiction of the passing of the Parliament Bill in the House of Lords, 1911 Passing of the Parliament Bill, 1911 - Project Gutenberg eText 19609.jpg
Samuel Begg's depiction of the passing of the Parliament Bill in the House of Lords, 1911

The Lords was now faced with the prospect of a Parliament Act, which had considerable support from the Irish Nationalists. [4] A series of meetings between the Liberal government and Unionist opposition members was agreed. Twenty-one such meetings were held between 16 June and 10 November. [12] The discussions considered a wide range of proposals, with initial agreement on finance bills and on a joint sitting of the Commons and the Lords as a means by which to enforce Commons superiority in controversial areas; the number of members of the Lords present would be limited so that a Liberal majority of fifty or more in the House of Commons could overrule the Lords. [13] However, the issue of home rule for Ireland was the main contention, with Unionists looking to exempt such a law from the Parliament Act procedure by means of a general exception for "constitutional" or "structural" bills. The Liberals supported an exception for bills relating to the monarchy and Protestant succession, but not home rule. [13] On 10 November, the discussions were declared to have failed. [12]

The government threatened another dissolution if the Parliament Act were not passed, and followed through on their threat when opposition in the Lords did not diminish. The December 1910 general election produced little change from January. [14] The second dissolution of Parliament now seems to have been contrary to the wishes of Edward VII. Edward had died in May 1910 while the crisis was still in progress. His successor, George V, was asked if he would be prepared to create sufficient peers, which he would only do if the matter arose. [6] This would have meant creating over 400 new Liberal peers. [15] The King, however, demanded that the bill would have to be rejected at least once by the Lords before his intervention. [13] Two amendments made by the Lords were rejected by the Commons, and opposition to the bill showed little sign of reducing. This led H.H. Asquith to declare the King's intention to overcome the majority in the House of Lords by creating sufficient new peers. [16] The bill was finally passed in the Lords by 131 votes to 114 votes, a majority of 17. [17] This reflected a large number of abstentions. [18]


At the request of prominent Cabinet member Sir Edward Grey, the preamble included the words "it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation". [19] The long title of the Act was "An Act to make provision with respect to the powers of the House of Lords in relation to those of the House of Commons, and to limit the duration of Parliament." [20] Section 8 defined the short title as the "Parliament Act 1911". [21]

The bill was also an attempt to place the relationship between the House of Commons and House of Lords on a new footing. As well as the direct issue of money Bills, it set new conventions about how the power the Lords continued to hold would be used. [22] It did not change the composition of the Lords, however. [15]

The Lords would only be able to delay money bills for one month, [23] effectively ending their ability to do so. [15] These were defined as any public bill which contained only provisions dealing with the imposition, repeal, remission, alteration, or regulation of taxation; the imposition for the payment of debt or other financial purposes of charges on the Consolidated Fund, or on money provided by Parliament, or the variation or repeal of any such charges; supply; the appropriation, receipt, custody, issue or audit of accounts of public money; and the raising or guarantee of any loan or the repayment thereof. But it did not cover any sort of local taxes or similar measures. Some Finance Bills have not fallen within this criterion; Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Bills have. The Speaker of the House of Commons would have to certify that a bill was a money bill, endorsing it with a Speaker's certificate. [15] [24] The Local Government Finance Act 1988, which introduced the Community Charge ("Poll Tax"), was not certified as a Money Bill and was therefore considered by the Lords. [25] Whilst Finance Bills are not considered Money Bills, convention dictates that those parts of a Finance Bill dealing with taxation or expenditure (which, if in an Act alone, would constitute a Money Bill) are not questioned. [26]

Other public bills could no longer be vetoed; instead, they could be delayed for up to two years. This two-year period meant that legislation introduced in the fourth or fifth years of a parliament could be delayed until after the next election, which could prove an effective measure to prevent it being passed. [15] Specifically, two years had to elapse between the second reading in the House of Commons in the first session and the passing of the bill in the House of Commons in the third session. [23] The Speaker also has to certify that the conditions of the bill have been complied with. There are significant restrictions on amendments to ensure that it is the same bill that has been rejected twice. [27] The 1911 Act made clear that the life of a parliament could not be extended without the consent of the Lords. [28]

Parliament had been limited to a maximum of seven years under the Septennial Act 1716, but the Parliament Act 1911 amended the Septennial Act to limit Parliament to five years, reckoned from the first meeting of Parliament after the election. In practice, no election was absolutely forced by that limitation; until the Septennial Act was repealed by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, all parliaments were dissolved by the Monarch under the Royal Prerogative on request of the Prime Minister. [29] The five-year maximum duration in the amended Septennial Act referred to the lifetime of the Parliament, and not to the interval between general elections. For example, the 2010 general election was held five years and one day after the 2005 general election, and the 1992 general election was held on 9 April 1992 and the next general election was not held until 1 May 1997. The reduction in the maximum length of a Parliament was seen as a counterbalance to the new powers granted to the Commons. [16] The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, in contrast, calls for general elections every five years (unless called sooner, as in 2017), and provides for dissolution of Parliament only by operation of law prior to each election; it abolished dissolution under the Royal Prerogative.


The Lords continued to suggest amendments to money bills over which it had no right of veto; and in several instances these were accepted by the Commons. These included the China Indemnity Bill 1925 and the Inshore Fishing Industry Bill 1947. [25] The use of the Lords' now temporary veto remains a powerful check on legislation. [30]

It was used in relation to the Government of Ireland Act 1914, which had been under the threat of a Lords veto, now removed. Ulster Protestants had been firmly against the passing of the bill. However, it never came into force because of the outbreak of the First World War. [31] Amendments to the Parliament Act 1911 were made to prolong the life of the 1910 parliament following the outbreak of the First World War, and also that of the 1935 parliament due to the Second World War. These made special exemptions to the requirement to hold a general election every five years. [32]

Legislation passed without the consent of the Lords, under the provisions of the Parliament Act, is still considered primary legislation. The importance of this was highlighted in Jackson v Attorney General , [case 1] in which the lawfulness of the Parliament Act 1949 was questioned. [28] The challenge asserted that the 1949 Parliament Act was delegated rather than primary legislation, and that the 1911 Parliament Act had delegated power to the Commons. If this were the case, then the House of Commons could not empower itself through the 1949 Parliament Act without direct permission from the House of Lords. Since it was passed under the 1911 Act, the 1949 Act had never received the required consent of the Lords. [33] However, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords found that the 1949 Act had been lawfully enacted. [28] The 1911 Act, it concluded, was not primarily about empowering the Commons, but rather had the purpose of restricting the ability of the Lords to reject legislation. [33] This ruling also appears to mean that efforts to abolish the House of Lords (a major constitutional change) by using the Act could be successful, although the issue was not directly addressed in the ruling. [34]


The Parliament Act 1911 can be seen in the context of the British constitution: rather than creating a written constitution, Parliament chose instead to legislate through the usual channels in response to the crisis. This was a pragmatic response, which avoided the further problems of codifying unwritten rules and reconstructing the entire government. [35] It is commonly considered a statute of "constitutional importance", which gives it informal priority in Parliament and in the courts with regard to whether later legislation can change it and the process by which this may happen. [36]

It is also mentioned in discussion of constitutional convention. Whilst it replaced conventions regarding the role of the House of Lords, it also relies on several others. Section 1(1) only makes sense if money bills do not arise in the House of Lords and the provisions in section 2(1) only if proceedings on a public bill are completed in a single session, otherwise they must fail and be put through procedure again. [37]

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...whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation

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Case law

  1. Jackson v Attorney General, UKHL 56, [2005] 4 All ER 1253.


  1. The Parliament Act 1949, section 2(2). Digitised copy from the UK Statute Law Database. Accessed on 2 December 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 203.
  3. Magnus 1964, p540
  4. 1 2 3 Keir (1938). p. 477.
  5. Barnett (2002). p. 535.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jackson, Leopold (2001). p. 168.
  7. Havighurst, Alfred F., Britain in Transition: The Twentieth Century, University of Chicago Press, 1985, pp. 89–90: see Google Books
  8. McKechnie, The reform of the House of Lords
  9. Magnus 1964, p534
  10. Ensor (1952). p. 417.
  11. Ensor (1952). p. 420.
  12. 1 2 Ensor (1952). p. 422.
  13. 1 2 3 Ensor (1952). p. 423.
  14. Keir (1938). pp. 477–478.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 204.
  16. 1 2 Keir (1938). p. 478.
  17. Joint Committee (2002). Section 6.
  18. Jackson, Leopold (2001). p. 169.
  19. Ensor (1952). pp. 419–420.
  20. "Parliament Act 1911: Introduction". Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  21. "Parliament Act 1911: Section 8". Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  22. Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 27.
  23. 1 2 Joint Committee (2002). Section 7.
  24. "Parliament Act 1911: Section 1". Retrieved 25 September 2011.
  25. 1 2 Barnett (2002). p. 536.
  26. Barnett (2002). p. 494–495.
  27. Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 205.
  28. 1 2 3 Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 68.
  29. Bradley, Ewing (2007). pp. 187–188.
  30. Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 153.
  31. Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 40.
  32. Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 57.
  33. 1 2 Barnett, Jago (2011). p. 445.
  34. Bradley, Ewing (2007). p. 74.
  35. Bradley, Ewing (2007). pp. 5–6.
  36. Bradley, Ewing (2007). pp. 15–16.
  37. Jaconelli, Joseph (2005). "Do Constitutional Conventions Bind?". Cambridge Law Journal. 64: 149. doi:10.1017/s0008197305006823.


Further reading

Online resources